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NewsHealthCoronavirus

350,000 to 400,000 Long Islanders hurting for food, nonprofit says

Food is sorted for distribution at Long Island

Food is sorted for distribution at Long Island Cares - The Harry Chapin Food Bank on June 18 in Hauppauge. Credit: Barry Sloan

About 260,000 people relied on a network of food pantries supported by Long Island Cares–The Harry Chapin Regional Food Bank in 2018, representing 9% of the Island's population, food bank officials said Friday.

That percentage is included in the food bank's 2019 Capacity & Distribution Survey Report released Friday, but does not reflect current needs because of the coronavirus situation, said Michael Haynes, chief government affairs officer for Long Island Cares.

"At the time this data was collected, the economy was booming," Haynes said during a news conference via Zoom. "There was an estimated 260,000 food insecure Long Islanders. And that’s when everything was good."

Haynes said estimates now range between 350,000 and 400,000 Long Islanders who are food insecure, "when you think about 270,000 people lost their jobs due to COVID-19" this year.

Data for the report, the nonprofit food bank's fourth since 2009, was collected in 2018. In 2015, 11% of Long Islanders relied on food banks.

"It provides the bench mark for what it is on Long Island when everything is good," Haynes said of the most recent report. And when everything was good, he said, "There's still 260,000 of us that don’t know where their next meal is coming from."

The food bank's report is based on a survey of Long Island Cares member agencies and programs that garnered a 72% response rate, or 410 out of 558 members. It looked at their capacity "to receive, store and distribute food," Haynes said.

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For example, do the pantries have enough capacity — whether it be staff to distribute food or space to store it? The survey also asked what kinds of programs their members have instituted to serve their communities, and how many hours a week they distribute food, and their financial capacity.

Paule T. Pachter, chief executive of Long Island Cares, said the survey gives a "pretty clear picture" of what's going on, enabling the food bank to tailor its responses to help member agencies and to expand its own operations.

Report highlights include:

  • 66% of member agencies said they operated their pantries with the help of 10 volunteers or fewer.
  • 90% of member agencies "are part-time entities," Haynes said, which he noted makes it "tough" during a pandemic driving increased demand. But even if they can't go full time, "they are being flexible," with 43% offering weekend hours and 37% offering evening hours, he added. "While we still need our agencies open more, they are trying to be there for people."
  • About 61% of member agencies have budgets of less than $50,000.
  • 48% of member agencies get more than half the food they distribute from Long Island Cares.

There was a 14% drop in the number of agencies primarily identifying as food pantries, between 2015 and 2018. The report wondered whether this meant pantries were closing or, "Do they still have a pantry, but view another aspect of their operation as their primary function?"

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